In light of Courtney’s latest post and her plan for a beautiful home birth, I thought to tell you about something special we have here in the Netherlands: the ‘birth box’. In our country, giving birth is considered a natural happening, not a medical one. Home births are still fairly common (around one in 8 women gives birth at home), but also if one chooses for a hospital birth, medical intervention is kept at an absolute minimum (unless, obviously, it is needed because of complications, or the wish for anaesthetics).
During pregnancy, women are seen by midwives. Every neighbourhood or small town has a midwife unit and regular pregnancy checks are taken here. Only if there’s a medical indication, are women directed to an obstetrician-gynecologist. When the pregnancy is straight-forward and without complications, and there is no indication of risk whatsoever, women have the option (and are even gently encouraged!) to give birth at home.
To prepare for home birth and aftercare, the insurance company sends a box with medical supplies and care products to each pregnant lady in the Netherlands. You will find things like mattress protector sheets, an umbilical cord clamp, cottonwool and compresses, disinfectants and, yes, those gigantic sanitary towels too. The insurance company usually includes a cute baby gift along with the box. It always made me so excited, to receive the birth box!
If aiming for a home birth, some other practical preparations need to be made, for instance, the bed needs to be lifted to 80 cm — this is a requirement for the protection of the backs of the midwife and the maternity nurse who will assist during the birth. The (bed)room will need to have easy access to running water, the room will have to be accessible by emergency services, the doorbell needs to be in perfect working order and the door needs to be clearly marked with the family name. You need a few buckets and bin-bags, good lighting (and a flash-light just in case), hot-water bottles, a chamber pot, fresh towels and bed-linen and extra pillows. Plus the usual baby care products like nappies, clothes, and blankets — you know, the fun stuff!
Of course not everyone chooses to give birth at home. In fact, more and more mothers decide to go to a hospital or a special midwife-run birthing house. But most contents of the birth box are still being used, as after a hospital birth (and if there are no complications), mother and baby do not stay overnight but are sent home within a few hours. A maternity nurse will come over to your house immediately, and she will be back daily for the next 8 to 10 days, helping to take care of mother and baby (and taking over some household tasks if needed). A midwife will visit your home a few times during this period as well, to medically check the mother and her baby. Both the maternity nurse and the midwife will need the products of the home birth box (for instance, alcohol to clean the umbilical cord). So handy to have the essential products needed all there in a box! Any materials from the box that are not used will not go wasted — they can be donated to a special nonprofit organisation, which uses them to improve hygiene and safety during births in different projects all over the world.
I just visited my beautiful friend Vicky here in Amsterdam, who is now 36 ½ weeks pregnant, and is not sure yet if she will give birth at home or in the hospital. She is very relaxed about it though — because of the system, she can simply see how it goes and make the decision when she’s in early labour. She has everything set up in her bedroom for a birth at home, but if in the end she feels like she wants to go to the hospital, that is a perfectly fine possibility too. I think it is quite special, this system we have in the Netherlands! Wether one decides to deliver at home or in the hospital, birth is always considered a beautiful, natural happening, and (due to our wonderful postpartum care system) being comfortable and relaxed at home always plays a very big part of the experience.
PS In Finland, every new mother is given a ‘starter kit’ by the government as they leave the hospital!